Micro-Shock Archives: Jack-O

Jack O (Special Edition) The One That Got Away:The 1995 low budget horror film known as Jack-O is the film I fondly refer to as the “one that got away”. It was the year 1996, I was in the 9th grade, and one of my friends had told me all about this movie that was — in his own words — “a real piece of shit with a pumpkin headed monster that looks like Styrofoam”. The movie he was talking about was Jack-O. From his brief description, and the confirmation that there was indeed nudity in it. I was instantly captured by the description and wanted to see the movie. Telling my friend, he quipped “You probably want to whack off to the naked girl”. Being a teenager, I denied this (even though we both knew I was lying and he was a hypocrite for laughing at the possibility I would) and said it was strictly for the fact that the movie sounded real bad.Unfortunately, my search stopped at he local video store, and not any further when I ascertained that they did not have a single copy. This was the 90′s, it wasn’t like I could order a copy on the internet or something.  I was obsessed for a while, I even made some really shitty video game “sequels” to Jack-O using a really basic video game maker (Dear Micro-Shock readers, I know I have them kicking around somewhere but I am too embarrassed to dig them up and put them on this website)

A face for the ages that looks like it's been alive for ages.

Anyway, high school came and went and I nearly forgotten about this movie due to the fact that I had discovered girls, beer, and was more centrally focused on using one to get with the other (intrepid genius that you are reader, you can figure out which order that goes into). Flash forward to April 2010. I am spending a week in Akron, Ohio, hanging out with my Micro-Shock cohort Rhonda Baughman, after a disastrous misadventure at the spring 2010 edition of Cinema Wasteland. My last night there was a drunken movie watching spree with Rhonda and the members of Elias Iscariot. After sitting through Corey Haim’s Me, Myself and I and Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody Else’s Fool, we went ravaging through Rhonda’s collection of VHS movies. Readers may recall that Rhonda is a devout lover of the VHS format, and her collection is something to be seen. Among the golden gems of cinematic oddities, cult classics, and other assorted weirdness was Jack-O. “I want to watch THAT ONE!” I screamed.  Rhonda rolled her eyes. Why Jack-O of all films when there are other, much more interesting, films to be watched? But I was stuck to my decision and I ended up watching the movie…. Alone.Or at least I attempted to, after guzzling down who knows how many beers and a fair amount of Jagermeister and whatever other ungodly alcoholic mixes that were fed to me, I simply passed out. When I woke up it was dawn and I had to get ready for my flight back home.See? The one that got away.Enough was enough, and finally after my life had calmed down a bit, I resolved that come hell or high water — I was going to see Jack-O, even if it killed me. Unfortunately for you all, I survived the experience and now I am going to share it with you.Two Dead Guys and Some Scream Queens:Filmed in 1993, but not released until 1995,  Jack-O is interesting for it’s choices of casting. The film was directed by Steve Latshaw, who prior to Jack-O directed films like Biohazard: The Alien Force and (I’m not making this up) Vampire Trailer Park. He casted his son Ryan in the film as the main character Sean Kelly. Sean’s last film was in 1997, so by b-movie standards he’s had about as successful career as any of the lesser Sheen/Estivez family members.

"I don't love you anymore Sally"

However, some prominent — or at least notable — scream queens make appearances in this film. Notably, the role of Caroyln Miller played by iconic scream queen Linnea Quigley (Yes, the naked goth zombie from Return of the Living Dead, thanks for playing along). It also featured brief appearances by Micro-Shock’s favorite scream queen Brinke Stevens, as well as Dawn Wildsmith (who some will note was in the Troma classic Surf Nazi’s Must Die and other low budget films such as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Beverly Hills Vamp)Then there’s the other “big” names in this movie, both of whom died before the movie released: The Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine.It’s interesting to note that Carradine’s “appearance” in this film was in the form of archive footage culled from another film (Don’t ask me what one, or if it was ever released, not even Wikipedia knows that!) not to mention the fact that Carradine had been dead since 1988.Premise:Years ago in the town of Oakmoore Crossing, a feud developed between the Kelly and Machen families. The patriarch of the Machen family — a supposed warlock — named Walter Machen (John Carradine) cursed the Kelly family and sent a pumpkin demon named Jack-O to slay them. The elder Kelly confronted the creature and died stopping it. The creature was then buried in a grave on the Kelly farm property.

In a shocking twist, the corpse of John Carradine was dug up for this post humanous role.

Flash forward to the modern day, and the current line of the Kelly family are well known in Oakmore Crossing for their annual Halloween “Haunted Garage” to raise money for charity. On the days leading up to Halloween Machen descendant Vivian Machen (Catherine Walsh) saves young Sean Kelly (Ryan Latshaw) from a bully and brings him home to his father David (Gary Doles) and mother Linda (Rebecca Wicks) . She volunteers to help the Kelly’s with their Haunted Garage and begins imparting them with her knowledge of the past — as she intends to protect Sean and his family and help them destroy Jack-O once and for all.As you can guess, Jack-O is risen from the dead thanks to a bunch of local teenagers out to drink beer, make out, and find old graves. When they knock down the cross that marks Jack-O’s grave, the pumpkin monster rises from the Earth and slays them all and then begins searching for the Kelly family.

"Listen, Death, the wife and I were talking and we're worried about you. What's the matter honey?"

By this point, Sean is going out trick or treating with his baby sitter Carolyn Miller (Linnea Quigley) after Caroyln’s sister Julie (Rachel Carter) bails on her to go drink beer, and have sex in the woods with her motorcycle riding boyfriend — things don’t go to well if you know what I mean.After Jack-O terrorizes the people of the town for a bit, he goes after Sean — the only one who can supposedly kill Jack-O, leaving Vivian to lead the boys parents to Jack-O’s grave for the final conflict with the pumpkin man. In the final battle, Viv gets chopped up, and the Kelly’s manage to destroy Jack-O and live to see another day.

Racism FAIL.

The Best Lines Were Delivered By the Guy Who Never Talked…The first thing you’ll notice about Jack-O is the bad acting. It literally stinks. Clearly the majority of the cast were first time actors. I would have to say that the worst of the bunch is the character Sean Kelly, played by Ryan Latshaw. Granted, you can’t really expect much from a child actor in a low budget movie, but this goes beyond that. He presents his role with an almost apathetic delivery of everything. He’s always looking off into space, giving unemotional deliveries. The fact that he’s the director’s son makes me wonder if Ryan actually wanted to be there to begin with. The look on his face was that of a kid who would have rather have been playing Nintendo then acting in dad’s horror movie.The rest of the characters, for the most part, deliver their lines woodenly with little or no characterization. When they are not delivering their lines they’re just standing there waiting for another actor to deliver a line or perform an action. They look like they’re concentrating too hard not to flub their lines. The whole point of acting is to look natural, and what they naturally look like are people grabbed to do an acting job they have little experience doing. Gary Doles certainly looks the father role, and he looks exactly what someones father would look like acting in a movie, and having never done it before.

I am Magneto, Master of Magnet! Welcome to Die!

The only two actors worth a damn in this movie are Linnea Quigley and Rachel Carter, in their roles as the Miller sisters.  Also the added bonus is the fact that these characters also appear nude, which helps deal with the pain parade the other actors put you through.The MonsterAs far as the monster Jack-O goes, I was actually impressed with what they came up with. Clearly the idea of a guy with a pumpkin for a head is certainly no new idea. But one of the upsides to this movie is the monsters presentation. While in no way frightening to any stretch of the imagination he at least looks cool. They attempted to go with as much of a jack-o-lantern feel as possible by giving him light up eyes.They draw out the big reveal for as long as possible unfortunately. Which I suppose it’s good in that, over exposure of Jack-O would take a cool looking monster and make him look ridiculous. This is also helped by the fact that Jack-O is seldom lit, until near the end of the film.The draw back though is that you get far too much character interaction that acts as filler while we wait for the monster to catch up with the story.

When necking takes on a more sinister turn

We Interrupt This Movie In Progress For a Special Report on PACING.One of the most annoying aspects of this movie is it’s slow pacing and awkwardstory telling direction. Firstly, the movie starts off with a fat guy who — so far as I can tell — has no relation to Sean Kelly telling him the legend of Mr. Jack the Pumpkin Man in the woods. First of all, why is this old man out camping with a kid he has no relation to?The entire back story is fractured between the opening sequence (as told by the fat guy) and Sean having nightmares about how Jack-O was defeated the first time. This is made even more chaotic by the hap-hazard splicing in of the John Carradine scenes. Which feature an different actor shot from far away when interacting with other characters, and then showing close up archive footage of Carradine up close. Not to mention Carradine’s lines are all dubbed in, and they are so vague you can’t help but notice they were swiped from some place else and dubbed into this movie.The other problem with this movie is the plodding nature of how Vivian explains the Kelly family history, the resurrection of Jack-O, and his confrontation with the Kelly’s. Between all this time the movie deviates from the plot to go to a gratuitousshower scene of Linnea Quigley (not that I’m complaining) and we are constantly brought back to the Kelly living room where Sean is watching a show called “Dr. Cadaver’s Monster Movie Madness”, spending time focusing on the television to show other movies.

In a desperate attempt to revitalize the Friday the 13th franchise, Paramount Pictures attempted to release "Friday the 13th and 1/2" featuring Jason Jr. The idea bombed and the Jason property was sold to New Line Pictures

This of course allows them to showboat cameo appearances by Brinke Stevens and Cameron Mitchell, two actors who appear in the film and have absolutely zero to do with the plot. I’m as grateful to be rescued from cinematic drek by a Brinke appearance as anyone, but at least have her be important to the plot or something.We also get to sit and watch some right wing religious nut on television as watched by the typical “asshole neighbors” who hate Halloween. This, I presume is some sort of social commentary on conservative snobs, but has all the de classe of the type of horse shit I wrote in high school to sound “edgy” in English class.You’re probably going to want to literally fast forward through whole chunks of this movie, and perhaps chapter skip back to the Quigley nudity to get through this one. I know I did.

This is what every goth guy is going to look like when they turn 40.

Let’s Go Duh Moments:As mentioned by my fellow co-writer Rhonda Baughman, horror movie characters sometimes suffer from “Let’s go die” moments. The obvious poor judgement that lands character cooling on a slab by the time the credits are rolling.I would have to add a new one to the Micro-Shock lexicon, a variation of the “Let’s go die” called “Let’s go duh!” Which are moments of horror movie deaths that are the product of a script that is so ridiculous the characters that can be categorized by this would have to be functionally retarded to be able to pull this shit off in real life.Case in point, the aforementioned conservative curmudgeons. The wife of the combo — while fleeing Jack-O — some how manages to slip on a rug and impale a fork into their toaster, getting electrocuted to death. Not only is this the most absurd thing, the writer of this turkey also had enough skill to foreshadow the event by having this couple really enjoy eating toast while sitting down to their favorite conservative talking head.

You know a movie is bad when it deviates from the plot to watch a Brinke Stevens movie

“Special” Effects:The next gripe I have with this movie is the clear lack of special effects. It looks like most of their budget went on the nifty Jack-O mask, because the gore effects are very much lacking.Which, I for one am going to say, you don’t always need buckets of blood to make a good horror movie. But between the lagging plot, bad acting you cannot sustain my interest with two nude scenes alone. If you want me to shut my brain off and enjoy this movie for mindless self indulgence, you’re going to have to also impress in the gore category.Unfortunately, they do not, and this is primarily due to their choice in the killers weapon: A scythe. I get what they were going for, a monster that comes out of the earlier frontier days of American history — what better weapon to give him am I right? Well, this is a weapon that can do a lot of damage, and hopefully with the right kind of writer, some inventive uses for said weapon.

The part of me that's still trapped in that late 80's early 90's hair metal finds this hot.

However, for the most part, it appears all that Jack-O can accomplish is cutting throats, and stomachs. Don’t expect gigantic torrents of blood, or guts to fall out all over the place either. For a movie with such a large sharp object there is a stunning lack of decapitations — a mere single head chopping — You’d figure a demon created by a warlock would be able to land more fatal blows than this, but most of the time he just nicks people and lets them bleed out.Possibly one of the most laughable kills in the film is at the climax when Vivian is killed by Jack-O, it looks like all they could accomplish with this one was using a blow up doll filled with fake blood. It possibly the worst attempt at showing someone getting disemboweled I have seen in a long time.

The Great Pumpkin grins with pleasure as that stupid kid with the Blue Blanket comes to visit him for another year

Climax?The end of the movie is… not really that impressive. After a massive build up where Vivian explains that Sean is the one who will have to stop Jack-O, the kid is very easily captured and offers absolutely no struggle for the giant pumpkin monster. In fact, Sean just lays still in a grave and lets Jack-O bury him with dirt.He has to be the most passive victim I have ever seen in a horror movie.Also, you lose a lot of points in the “Last great hope to stop an ancient evil” category when you’re parents have to take the family car out to come to your rescue. This kid almost screws the pooch, I’m surprised we aren’t all bowing down to emperor Jack-O yet while somewhere the disembodied voice of John Carradine cackles madly. In the end of the film.

I wanted him to give me head, but this wasn't what I meant!

In the end, after Vivian buys the farm, Sean grabs the cross that marked Jack-O’s grave, apparently the one thing that can destroy the creature. Then in the most pitiful voice he could muster he shouts “Come get me pumpkin man!”While Sean is holding the crucifix, it’s actually his dad who tackles Jack-O and knocks him down onto it — impaling it through his chest.So I guess the moral of the story is that when you’re the only hope to stop an ancient evil, it’s always good to get the help of an adult? This is demon slaying, not arts and crafts. Kid, you completely fail as a hero if you need your mom and dad’s help to save the day.Final Word on Jack-OJack-O is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, however it’s one of those bad movies you can really enjoy sitting down and picking to shreds. It’s the typical low budget stuff you’d expect from American International Pictures, and despite how bad it is, it’s still enjoyable to watch.Failing that, you can at least watch it for the excessively long Quigley shower scene. It’s okay dear reader, we don’t judge you here.

I said I could use a trim down there but this is ridiculous

Nick Peron

Stand-Up Comedian from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He has been writing articles about popular culture on the internet for almost 20 years. He has written for destroythebrain.com, as well as the now defunct micro-shock.com and bthroughz.com. More recently, he had been a fan contributor at www.fandom.com and has been an active contributor to the Marvel Comics Database for over a decade. He also had a bit role in the film Sexsquatch. His biggest claim to fame however is the fact that he has been banned in China.